Abdo defends crackdown, Brooks denies exit talk, Knights CEO backs ‘10 years’ O’Brien, Flanagan back

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo has defended the controversial crackdown on high contact whch turned Magic Round into a farce 12 months ago.

Speaking on the eve of this year’s event at Suncorp Stadium, he claimed the tough action had yielded benefits, pointing to a reduction in HIAs, high tackles and judiciary charges.

While well intentioned, the 14 sin-binnings and three send-offs dominated debate in the weeks and months afterwards.

A lack of consistency over send-offs has been making news again recently with Manly’s Karl Lawton and Cronulla fullback Will Kennedy marched for dangerous incidents but Sharks centre Jesse Ramien only getting a sin bin for a high shot which attracted the same grade-three charge as his teammate.

“Our sport is very dynamic, but we are very comfortable with the learning curve that has been adopted by the players, coaches and the clubs,” Abdo said.

The NRL expects a near-full house every day with 30,000 fans travelling interstate to Brisbane to generate upwards of $25 million for the local economy.

In recent weeks, there has been plenty of political brinkmanship about whether the NRL grand final might be moved from Sydney to Brisbane.

In turn, that has led to a to-ing and fro-ing over Magic Round’s long-term home. Even on Thursday Abdo wouldn’t rule out taking the event to Sydney or Auckland.

Fireworks in Suncorp Stadium

Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

“It’s proven very popular here,” he said. “Why wouldn’t it be very popular in other markets down the track?”

On Thursday, the state’s Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe announced that Brisbane would be retaining the jamboree for a further two years before a deal had been officially signed off.

“Queensland is the home of Magic Round, Queensland invented Magic Round,” he said, blissfully unaware the NRL pinched the concept from the Super League. “Suncorp Stadium is the only place for Magic Round and it’s very exciting that the magic will continue beyond this weekend.”

Brooks denies release request at Tigers

Wests Tigers playmaker Luke Brooks has denied asking for a release to join Newcastle in the off-season as a replacement for Mitchell Pearce.

The Knights reportedly put out feelers to see if they could get Brooks and Immortal halfback Andrew Johns, who has returned to the club as a coaching consultant, said he wanted to bring the Tiger under his wing to get the best out of him.

However, Brooks told Channel 9 on Thursday night that he was never interested in leaving TigerTown and said he and his management did not request a release from his lucrative contract which expires at the end of next year.

“There’s plenty of stuff that has been written about me and I don’t really care,” he said.

“That’s something I learned pretty early coming into first grade is that everyone is going to have an opinion on you. I guess I learned to deal with that pretty early and it’s all part of the game.”

His early-season form dropped but he’s recently improved after switching to five-eighth with Jackson Hastings at halfback and Brooks paid credit to coach Michael Maguire, whose own future his under the spotlight with the team running 13th with a 2-7 record heading into Sunday’s Magic Round match-up with the in-form Cowboys.

Adam O'Brien

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

O’Brien gets CEO’s blessing for 10 years

Knights CEO Phil Gardner has not only backed Adam O’Brien to turn the team’s fortunes around but he believes the coach should be in the role for the next decade.

Newcastle have been the NRL’s biggest disappointment in 2022, sitting last on the ladder entering Friday night’s Magic Round opening match at Suncorp Stadium.

They started the season with back-to-back wins but have lost seven on the trot as they have been forced to deal with a heavy injury toll and speculation over Kalyn Ponga’s future before he finally re-signed.

“There’s no doubt in our mind that Adam O’Brien is the right coach for us,” Gardner told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“We hope that Adam is with us for the next 10 years. I think we have the right group of people. Our club is a team and the good clubs have great teamwork.

“We’ve got Adam O’Brien, Danny Buderus, Andrew Johns, Hayden Knowles, and Clint Zammit is heading up our recruitment. I look across the game and there’s no other group I’d swap it for – and that includes Melbourne.”

Flanagan joins Kumuls

Shane Flanagan will be given a chance to press his claims for a future NRL head coaching job after being named coaching director of the Papua New Guinea national team.

He will act as a sounding board to Stanley Tepend, who replaces longstanding coach Michael Marum after he stood down earlier this year to explore a career in politics.

Flanagan, who won a premiership with Cronulla in 2016, was deregistered by the NRL in 2018 after it emerged he breached the terms of a 2014 ban stemming from the Sharks’ supplement program scandal.

The 56-year-old has been employed by St George Illawarra since his registration was reinstated by the NRL in 2020 and works as part of the club’s recruitment and retention team.

His contract with the Kumuls lasts until the end of 2022 and his addition to Tepend’s staff may prove crucial in convincing Dragons lock Jack de Belin to play for PNG in an upcoming Test against Fiji before a World Cup later this year.

“I’m really excited about it, I think I can help the PNG team,” Flanagan said. “There’s a Test match in Fiji soon leading into the World Cup, and I’m there to help and give advice.”

PNG are fifth in the game’s international rankings. 

Cronulla’s Briton Nikora.

Briton Nikora. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Sharks close to re-signing forward trio

Cronulla look like winning the race for second-rower Briton Nikora’ signature despite interest from the Wests Tigers in the Kiwi international.

Fellow forwards Jack Williams and Braden Hamlin-Uele are also set to pledge their allegiance to the Sharks who will have cash to splash with veteran prop Andrew Fifita’s high-priced long-term contract coming off the books at the end of this year.

Veteran skipper Wade Graham is also a free agent but the club has delayed making a call on his future until he gets more games under his belt after last season was cut short by concussion problems and his 2022 campaign was delayed until recently due to an ankle injury.

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